PHUKET: Our dive team surfaces into the blackness of “The Cathedral”, torch beams bounce off the yellow walls and catch stalactites hanging from the ceiling like delicate icicles well above us.
With BCDs inflated the team relaxes. Below, the water glows, changing from a sapphire blue to an emerald green within the depths – this is Koh Haa Yai.
In Phuket, or almost anywhere off Thailand’s Andaman coast, if you hear about someone heading out on a liveaboard you assume they are headed up to the (now recently re-opened for the season) Similan National Park.
The Similans continue to be ranked as one of the top diving destinations in the world. However, such a distraction means that “hidden” treasures like the startling beautiful dive sites of Koh Haa (Five Islands) are left unexplored by many of our Phuket’s divers and visitors.
Our southbound liveaboard leaves Chalong Pier wrapped up in the dark of Friday night, we anchor off of Koh Phi Phi for our morning dive and then move toward Koh Haa’s five uninhabited limestone outcroppings.
With no night dives on the books for Friday, the boat’s guests crack the seals on a couple bottles and start fantasizing about the mega fauna that is also known to visit the islands. Black tip sharks, leopard sharks and manta rays all get their fair mention, but most on the boat are holding out for a whale shark.
Thankfully, no one was holding their breath.
Charismatic mega fauna is hit or miss even in places like the Similans. So a dive site or trip that only offers you a chance at spotting these incredible creatures, and nothing else, is a dangerous holiday gamble. Our trip, despite not giving us “standard” bragging rights of sharks, left the whole boat buzzing with excitement.
Our group of divers float at the ocean’s surface waiting to descend for a second dive at Koh Haa Yai. The deep bottom, 30 meters below, is clearly visible. At the surface, we work our way toward the rock faces jutting out of the ocean, watching the bottom rise to about 18 meters where it meets the cavernous entrance to “The Cathedral”.
Submerged, our group of divers scours the walls of the entrance, where the light begins to fade, searching for nudibranchs and ornate ghost pipe fish. In the middle of the enormous cave, a nudibranch, smaller than a child’s finger nail, is caught by a diver’s torch beam as it gyrates in the “open” water.
A slow ascent to 12 meters reveals a large swim through to the cave’s second largest entrance. Hovering at the opening, the blue of the ocean is framed by the jagged edges of the cave entrances on both sides.
A momentary ascent to the surface inside the cave leaves us in the darkness, bubbles from divers below tickle our chins. Immediately you know that this is the moment that will drive the chatter on the boat.
Bobbing at the surface, it was clear that a manta ray or a whale shark wasn’t necessary for inspiration.
The effects of the ocean and the rain over millennia are themselves awe inspiring. A cathedral in its own right, and only accessible to the world through diving.
— Isaac Stone Simonelli
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